The announcement of the victors in the auction of four new nationwide TV licenses heralds a new era for Greece after 27 years of unregulated private television. The successful quartet of media moguls emerged after a fierce, drawn out and peculiar auction that kicked off at the General Secretariat of Media and Communication on Tuesday morning. For Christos Kalogritsas, Vangelis Marinakis, Yiannis Alafouzos and Minos Kyriakou, the 66-hour scrum was worth it.
Stripped of their mobile phones and communicative devices, all eight auction candidates were cooped up at the state media regulator’s Kallithea offices for the duration of the three-night bidding process. “In order to safeguard state interests, the flow of information between the bidders must be cut,” said State Minister Nikos Pappas, the government official in charge of the Big Brother-styled process that turned out to be an unprecedented endurance test (yielding 246 mln euros for state coffers).
Shortly before 03:00 dawn on Friday – while most Greeks were sleeping – the successful media tetrad left the building, tired but satisfied. The government hopes that the selection of these four media outlets will put an end to what is known as the “triangle of corruption” made up of banks, the media and governments. Skeptics, however, feel that by crushing this corruption, SYRIZA is setting up the scene to create a “new corruption” to serve its own interests. The opposition parties believe that the four musketeers of media freedom are actually the four horsemen of pluralism – nothing more than a new wave of media “oligarchs” in disguise.
AND THE WINNERS ARE…
- MINOS KYRIAKOU – ANT1 (75.9-million-euro-bid)
The Greek shipping magnate, aged 78, is no newcomer to the world of television as the founder and owner of ANT1 Group, a media company that owns one of the oldest private television channels in Greece. He has numerous sports interests and is president of the Greek Olympics Committee, and was the owner of the Panellionios multi-sports club and the same team’s basketball league. As a result of property violations involving Panellinios being located on Athens Municipality premises, Kyriakou served 48 months imprisonment without suspension in February 2007. Other property violations include the construction of a harbor at Porto Heli for which he paid a fine of 15,000 euros.
2. VANGELIS MARINAKIS – ALTER EGO (73.9-million-euro bid)
The influential Greek shipowner, aged 49 years, is also hailed as the owner of Greece’s Olympiacos football club. He was elected into the Piraeus city council in May 2014, running with the Piraeus Winner, an independent political group that he co-founded with Yannis Moralis. His main goal was to preserve the public nature of the Piraeus Port Authority and develop the port as a large cruise destination. As a philanthropist, he is known for supporting culture and privately funding the development of parks, squares and port facilities. His name, however, has also been embroiled in a number of sports controversies and scandals including reports of match-fixing, and complicity in acts of bribery and match manipulation.
CHRISTOS KALOGRITSAS – IOANNIS VLADIMIROS KALOGRITSAS (52.6 million euros)
The 69-year-old businessman, active in the building sector, is known as the “red” TV mogul due to his staunch support of SYRIZA and his high-ranking friends within the leftist party. He bought out construction company Medusa that later merged with Tsipras Ltd that belongs to Pavlos Tsipras, father of the current president. Furthermore, Kalogritsas has numerous familial relations with high-ranking politicians as Harilaos Florakis (former general secretary of the Greek Communist Party) who is his best man and junior party coalition member Panos Kammenos who heads the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party. For the past five years, he has owned Pileus Holding, a company involved in the buying and selling of real estate. As owner of construction company, Toxotis, he was commissioned numerous public works. The acquisition of a TV license is a big step for Kalogritsas due to his absence from the media industry for a number of years. In the past, he funded the leftist newspaper Proti and Electra Publications, named after his daughter. Though he keeps a low profile, his name was implicated in a phone tapping scandal in July 2009 when the National Intelligence Service taped telephone conversations betwen Panagiotis Vlastos serving a life-time sentence at Korydallos prison and KERKETEFS construction company owner George Tromboukos, accused of being part of a conspiracy racket involved in abductions. In the conversations, Tramboukos referred to Kalogritsas as a leading figure of the 17N terrorist organization.
YIANNIS ALAFOUZOS – NEWS.COM (43.6-million-euro bid)
Yiannis Alafouzos belongs to the Santorinian Alafouzos family, who are prominent in the shipping sector. As a successful publisher, he owns Kathimerini – one of Greece’s most prestigious daily newspapers – as well as the Skai Group that includes Skai TV and three radio stations (Skai 100.3, Melodia 99.2 and Red 96.3). He has always been a vocal opponent of corruption and critic of the lack of media freedom. “It’s developed into a completely unhealthy situation. The purpose of the media has been largely to execute specific tasks for their owners,” he told Reuters. Critics, however, point to SKAI as being among companies found not to be paying tax – an omission that SKAI says was caused by local bureaucracy. Earlier this year, Alafouzos said he actually “welcomed” the probe by authorities into his financial activities that resulted in his assets being frozen so that alleged “irregularities” in his accounts could be examined and swept aside once and for all. He said that the income being investigated was from shipping interests abroad. Since May 2012, he is the president of the alliance that co-owns Panathinaikos football club.
AND THE LOSERS…
Alpha, Star and the Cypriot group left the auction feeling a sense of gloom though Russian tycoon Ivan Savvidis stole the show with his one-liners. MEGA and EPSILON – the other two candidates that did not make it to the bidding stage – are also considering different options concerning the not-so-distant future in just 90 days, when Digea stops transmitting for all channels except the four licensed ones. The livelihood of thousands of Greek workers now is at stake.
NOTE: Just to keep things in perspective, licenses costing from 43-75 million euros seem ludicrous when considering that Greece’s TRAINOSE was sold to Italian railway Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane S.p.A for 45 million euros.